The outcome of the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC)'s pledge to collaborate with the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) contradicts the proverbial belief that Government activity is often slow. We are pleased to report encouraging progress in our ongoing efforts to promote the development of assistive technologies (AT), on a number of levels.
Nationally, the awareness of the need to develop and transfer technologies for the disabled and elderly communities is building. Through several modestly-funded demonstration FLC regional initiatives, laboratory scientists now understand that their existing technologies, or the adaptation or customization of their specialized devices, can make a world of difference in one's quality of life. Some examples of individuals who potentially could benefit from this are: a young person with multiple sclerosis restricted to a wheelchair or an elderly individual with a hearing or visual impairment.
Regional AT Projects
In May, a joint Regional Wheeled Mobility Initiative was held by the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC), in partnership with the RERC on Wheeled Mobility (WM-RERC), Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and FLC-Mid Atlantic (MA) Region. Representatives from the MA laboratories received problem statements on the specific areas of motor technologies requested by the manual and wheelchair power industries. Six labs from the MA Region responded to the "demand-pull" (need-driven opportunity) with their potentially useful technologies. A call for technologies has gone out to research institutions, nationally, and this month, RERC and RTI officials will meet with the lab scientists to discuss the latent capability of their technologies. In addition, the FLC Locator, who oversees national activity on the FLC website, has contacted individual labs with the requested kind of expertise.
From other FLC Mid-Atlantic Regional projects Ð the Firefighters Initiative and the Next Generation Sensor Initiative Ð there may also be crossover technologies, devices that can be adapted for the AT community. For instance, in its work with the Firefighters, the FLC Southeast Region has developed a safety communication device for the firefighter's helmet, one of their labs' enhancement technologies which may be isolated for potential use in assistive technologies.
Reflecting additional interest in developing assistive technologies is an award-winner in the FLC's Awards for Excellence in Technology Transfer for 1999. At the US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a unique cross-disciplinary team of lab experts was assembled, with qualifications in optics, lasers, polymers, computer modeling of laser/tissue interactions and mechanical and electrical engineering. They developed a medical device to improve the treatment of cerebral aneurysms and hemorrhagic stroke, which was licensed to Micrus, Inc., and is now ready for clinical trials.
Growing Congressional Support
Continual FLC efforts help keep Congress aware of the needs for the often forgotten or "orphaned" segments of the US population, the disabled and the rapidly expanding elderly communities. Going beyond the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (Section 212), which enables the FLC and NIDRR to collaborate on the development of assistive technologies, the Technology Transfer Commercialization Act of 1999, S. 804, was introduced in early April. FLC Chair Dan Brand testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space, on the FLC's central role in promoting "tech transfer", successful FLC partnerships and government technology transfer activities and successes. Supported by Senators Bill Frist (R, Tennessee), and Jay Rockefeller (D, West Virginia), the bills would further assist new laboratory-industry partnerships to develop, and help streamline the process for licensing federally sponsored technologies, as well as reduce the time for implementing collaborations. At this writing, the legislation is pending in the Senate and House.
On a regular basis, FLC's newsletter, NewsLink, focuses on assistive technologies in one or two monthly issues, featuring AT programs, specialized technologies and successful tech transfer stories. Other ongoing publicity in various publications, in ads, on the World Wide Web, and at trade shows all help increase the momentum for the AT cause.
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